Baltimore Ravens vs. Dallas Cowboys Preview and Pick

Baltimore Ravens (9-5) +4, 39.5 O/U at Dallas Cowboys (9-5) -4, 39.5
O/U, Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas, 8:15 PM Eastern, Saturday, NFL Network

by Badger of

When the NFL announced its NFL Network schedule back in August the
main highlight of their Baltimore Ravens-Dallas Cowboys December 20th
Saturday Night telecast was that it was going to be the final game at
storied Texas Stadium, but now the game has so many playoff
implications that its dripping with drama.

The Cowboys took care of business last weekend on the same Texas
Stadium turf with a crucial 20-8 victory over the New York Giants.
Quarterback Tony Romo threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns with a
bad back, and rookie running back Tashard Choice ran for 143 yards
and a score as the Cowboys remained smack-dab in the middle of the
NFCs wildcard chase with a victory of the Giants. Next up are the
surprising Baltimore Ravens in another must-win game.

The Ravens took a shot to the breadbasket last week, a last-second
13-9 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but despite the
loss they also remain as a main player in the AFCs final wildcard
chase. But the Ravens will need rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to
rebound if they hope to stay in the hunt, as Flacco took his lumps
versus the Steelers No. 1 defense last week to the tune of just 115
yards passing and an interception.

Lost in all of the playoff significance is the fact that this is likely the final game at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys and owner Jerry
Jones will open a new, billion dollar stadium next year in Arlington,
and unless the Cowboys get the No.5 seed and make it through two
rounds to face the No. 6 seed, this will be the final home game at
the stadium where the Cowboys clinched five of their eight NFC

Oddsmakers opened the game with the Cowboys as 5-point favorites, but news of Romos bad back and other Cowboy injuries have driven the
number down to Dallas minus 4-points. The over/under total opened at
39 and has held firm, with the exception of a few 39.5 at most of the
Las Vegas bookies as well as a few offshore sportsbooks. The
moneyline lists the Cowboys at -200, with Baltimore as +170 underdogs.

Dallas will have the upper hand on offense in this game, provided all
of the components are healthy enough to make it through the game.
Romo took a shot to his back last week versus the Giants, and running
back Marion Barber is still battling turf toe, tight end Jason Witten
has a bum ankle, receiver Roy Williams has a bad foot, etc. But this
time of the year, in a must-win game, you can bank on all of them
playing for as long as they can.

The problem is that they will be facing another top-5 defense for the third week in a row. Linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and the Ravens defense boast the leagues 2nd overall defense (257.5 ypg) and
the 3rd-ranked scoring defense (15.2 ppg), so the going will be
tough. So will the hitting, as the Ravens seem to take pride (i.e.
bounty system) in knocking the opponents players off the field.

Baltimores offense will not only need more offense from Flacco, but
they will need more offense in general. When the Ravens were red-hot
and winning seven-out-of-eight down the stretch the offense broke the
350-yard mark three times and averaged 29.8 points per game. Last
week they were brought back down to earth by the Steelers as they
were held to a season-low 202 yards.

They will need to add extra protection schemes to help protect Flacco
too, as the Cowboys lead the NFL in sacks with 53 and have registered
20 sacks and nine turnovers in their last three games alone.

This will be the first and only chance for the Ravens to play at
Texas Stadium, as these teams have met only twice since the team
became the Ravens and both games were in Baltimore. Both games were
also Baltimore victories (and covers), with the last one coming in a
30-10 fashion back in 2004.

For the year the Ravens have been a covering machine, with a 10-4 ATS record. Despite a strong defense, they are 8-5-1 versus the total for the year. The over is also a strong play historically, as they have
come in over the total in 14 of their last 19 games on grass.

The Cowboys have struggled versus the spread this season (7-7 ATS),
and those troubles seem to take place late in the season as well as
they are just 1-7 ATS in their last eight games in December.

Badgers Pick: Baltimore has a defense strong enough to hold down
the Cowboys, while the Ravens offense is still too green to mount
much of an attack versus the Cowboys. It could get ugly. Take the
under of 39.5 here.